WITH Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas and Mélisande, Debussy found the perfect subject for what turned out to be his only opera.

It is a misty tale set in medieval times, based around a doomed love triangle and ending, inevitably, in tragedy and violence. With it, he created one of the operatic landmarks of the 20thTwentieth century and arguably, the beginning of modern opera.

In some ways, it is hard going, with its very static action, all carried forward by a brand of recitative, based on the rhythm of the French language, and nothing approaching an aria. As much as anything, it is the orchestra that is the star of the piece with a Parsifal-influenced sumptuousness added to Debussy’s characteristic Impressionist sound-world driving forward atmosphere and meaning. The remarkable score was realised to great effect by the WNO orchestra on top form under Lothar Koenigs.

The gothic world of moral and spiritual decay, emphasised by the imposing giant skeleton that dominates the set throughout, is effectively evoked by the small cast superbly led by Christopher Purves as the troubled Golaud. He is tormented and driven to the brink by the beautiful Mélisande – Jurgita Adamonyte here provides the requisite seductiveness as the Rapunzel-like femme fatale amid the gloom and claustrophobia of the castle at Allemonde. Tenor Jacques Imbrailo is equally effective as the doomed Pélleas, played with a wide-eyed naïvete.